Category Archives: history

The future is here (we just can’t see it yet)

Here’s a thought for the day: the technology we see around is isn’t actually the state of the art. In fact, it’s generally a few years in the past.

Consider: gadgets generally take a few years to go from concept to prototype to product. Sometimes these leak out early, but usually not until the product is fairly mature. If Apple and Microsoft are prepping their tablets for market now, you can bet they have research cells working on the next generation after that.

The same thing is true with bio-tech. Even the most basic drugs go through years of clinical trials before being released, and there are years of development behind each trial. Imagine what’s being internally tested now that won’t be available to the public for another decade.

Of course, everyone knows it’s true with military and defense technology. For the past 60 years or so, black programs have been years or even decades ahead of the state of the civilian art in air- and space-craft, remote sensing and even mathematical proofs.

Even movies and video games released today are made with the technology that was available a year or two ago.

On one hand, a medieval peasant’s plow was probably as advanced as any plow in the world during that time. During the Industrial Revolution, advances in machinery were implemented more or less as quickly as was practical. And yet, look at how long it took (even in the US) between Edison inventing the light bulb and every home having electric lighting; compare that to how quickly iPods and iPhones became ubiquitous. This seems like a strong argument that if there is a Singularity, we are living in it right now: the gap between the available and the possible keeps growing, even as the speed in which the possible becomes available shrinks.

We’re actually living about 5 minutes in the past right now. I don’t know about you, but that makes me optimistic about the future.

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Filed under history, technology, thoughts

What does a programmer do?

What programmers looked like in 1960:

What does a programmer do?

From Are You Looking Into Your Future (1960), at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Government Comics Collection.

Also note the father and son peeking between the curtains, making a list of the neighbors and their occupations.

update: It gets even better. Check out the names on the list. Mr. Green, Mr. White, Mr. Gray… Are they picking out careers, or planning a heist?

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Filed under comics, computers, history

Old Time Military Sci-Fi

The tradition is that military science fiction, especially future infantry with political undertones, began with Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Then came Bill The Galactic Hero and The Forever War and offered a more cynical counterpoint, and a genre was born.

The tradition, it turns out, is wrong. Around 1955, a radio series called 2000 Plus broadcast a story called A Veteran Comes Home [mp3]. Go listen to it. It sounds eerily like the Vietnam-influenced stories that were to come about 20 years later, especially The Forever War. And it could just as easily have been written today, with Mars standing in for Iraq or Afghanistan.

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Filed under defense, history, old time radio, science fiction

What they’re watching in outer space?

The Aldebarans must have a pretty bad opinion of us right around now:

Abtruse Goose: Electromagnetic Leak

Via Abtruse Goose, a webcomic any fans of XKCD will probably enjoy.

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Filed under history, space, television

Spies Down Under

If you’re like me, you get a kick when bits of the espionage world peek out into daylight. Especially when they’re just tacky enough to have that noir romance appeal. John le Carre rocks this, for example.

Which is why this account of an Australian Security Intelligence Organization operation against the Community Party of Australia is so fascinating.

Wechsler also received abundant non-monetary assistance from ASIO. This ranged from driving him to various appointments, visiting him in hospital, expediting delayed payments of sickness benefits (including direct intervention on Wechsler’s behalf to the Department of Social Security), expressing constant praise, gratitude and reassurance, finding him accommodation when evicted and arranging the storage of his furniture.

You know these things happened, and still happen, all the time.

Incidentally, that guy? Is now the guy writing this.

h/t Laura Rozen.

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Filed under history, intel